Having Put In Time by R. J. Santos
e need to talk. When are you free?
Something a little like fear coiled around me when I received this text message from a recent ex just as I was about to go to sleep. I didn't know why, but I had an inkling of what it was he wanted to talk about. It was the out-of-the-blueness of his text message that actually induced it. The last time we talked, which was four months ago, I didn’t think there would be a next time unless he absolutely had to, and this absolutely-had-to situation was what scared me.
I sat in the dark for a while until the urge to know eventually overcame me and I was compelled to press the call button. I knew he wanted to talk in person, but I also knew he had always wanted an easy way out of tough situations. Like a serious face to face conversation. And trust me, if what my gut told me was right, nobody would ever want to be a part of this conversation we would soon have.
He answered almost immediately. “Just a sec. Let me go somewhere private.”
No hellos or anything.
Still, I okayed, though I almost choked saying it. It was just... it had been a long time since we last talked, and with the way that had gone, I hadn’t had any chance to prepare myself for this. This just felt too soon.
“James, look, we really should talk about this in person,” he said after a while, and I could almost see him pacing back and forth in front of me.
“No.” I then told him, getting the feeling I was about to jump off of a cliff, “I think I know what it is. I just wanted to confirm it.”
He sighed but didn’t say anything for a few seconds. Then, “You always were intuitive. Remember when I told you I wanted to have myself tested?”
Earthquakes, thunder, and lightning.
I knew it! my mind screamed.
He became silent for a while, probably because I inhaled a little too loudly at the last thing he said. And who wouldn’t? Heck, if I was only thinking right, at this moment I should’ve already jumped out of the window. The thing was, I was too calm for a person who was on the verge of being told he should have himself tested for HIV. I was fucking scared, I had to be, but I just didn’t feel like I was.
Maybe, though, I just had been expecting this for a while. You know, it had been that kind of relationship after all. Between the beginning and the end were just too many damned should-haves that I had chosen to ignore. Which was why we were now having this conversation.
I didn’t blame him though. Not for anything.
“I’m HIV positive, James. I’m sorry,” he said, and his voice started shaking. “It’s so hard to talk about, you know? But... you’re one of the persons I had sex with in the last six months, and I have to tell you. I’m sorry.”
My problem was that—I realized just now—I didn’t know how to be unforgiving when it came to Cris. I couldn't find it in my heart to be angry, though I felt like he had just dumped me somewhere, deserted and left me to fend for myself. We had had a relationship, and now, this just seemed to be a continuation minus the love.
"I'll get tested,” I told him, feeling a massive weight settle inside my chest, the kind that would either become heavier or entirely disappear, depending on the outcome of this situation.
“For what it’s worth, I hope I got this after we broke up.”
I sighed. Whatever. Fat lot of good his feelings would do to me if the opposite was true.
“I wish you never got it at all,” I replied, and I couldn’t help something like bitterness seeping into my voice. I also just stopped short of repeating what I’d told him the day we broke up, that I couldn’t understand why he had to have so much sex. I just thought that this could have been prevented so easily.
“Of course,” he replied in a voice that sounded so defeated I almost apologized for what I said. He took a deep breath, then said, “I could go with you if you want.”
At first, I couldn’t say anything—didn’t even consider he would offer—and I knew he really would wait for my answer however long it would take. Eventually, though I didn't know why, the feeling that I had something to settle with him made me agree. Besides, I also knew nothing about clinics where I could get tested. I thought it would be a win-win situation. Though, by the time I had finally settled down to sleep, I couldn't help wondering what kind of situation I had really just put myself into.
He was late. As usual.
We had agreed to meet on a Saturday, today, at nine a.m. at a Chowking near him, and he was late by forty minutes. Becoming HIV positive wasn't life-changing enough of an experience for him, I guess.
The first thing he did was touch my hair and remark at how long I had let it grow. Then he sat in front of me and smiled a little too sadly from across the table. I returned it in kind because something truly felt different at that moment. I realized only then that I was finally able to really look at him, for the first time, without the love I had had for him, which was probably why he now looked half like a stranger to my eyes.
"Sorry I'm late," he said, which made me chuckle. I did not expect the apology at all.
"You're lying,” I told him with what I hoped he’d see as mirth. “Come on, let's get food. I’ve waited enough."
He finally smiled then, a smile that had some semblance of happiness. At least, that seemed to mean it wouldn’t prove to be difficult to slide back into our former familiarity with each other. I had been dreading this meeting would turn out to be one big awkward mistake, but we soon settled down to updating each other with our lives, which we continued on our train ride to Manila. He said that we would be going to San Lazaro Hospital first, where we would get his results, the detailed ones, as he had only called the clinic by phone to know whether it was negative or positive.
At one point in our conversation, he told me that the guy he was currently dating had tested negative for HIV and that he thought that the relationship would not work out because of how his had turned out. I pitied him, especially when he said he probably had no hope of finding a life partner anymore, but I disagreed.
"That's not true," I told him. "There are guys out there who understand the truth about”—I looked around at the other passengers in the train to see if anyone was listening to us before continuing with what I was about to say—“your... you know, and... would have no qualms about having a relationship with you."
His eyes suddenly took on a challenging look. "Would you?"
I laughed. He just looked so triumphant at proving his point, but he was wrong. "Look, Cris, I was quick to say that, but not for the reason you think. Let's just say it's more about personality issues. There're some things you just can't overlook."
He rolled his eyes but stayed silent for the rest of the ride. I, however, couldn't stop wondering if I'd ever go back to him if my test turned out to be positive. I knew I told him there would be guys out there who would have no second thoughts about pursuing a relationship with somebody HIV positive, but imagining myself in that situation extinguished my faith in that belief, though not totally. Finding another HIV positive guy who would be interested in me just seemed easier and an option I would take over being alone. Which was why I hoped, fervently, it had been after we broke up that he’d been infected. I didn't want to have to find out what my choices would be as someone stigmatized by a disease yet without a cure.
It turned out the hospital still didn't have a record of him at all. We found that out after they had sent us back and forth across the hospital grounds. I didn't get, anyway, why the clinic told him he could get a copy of his results from San Lazaro and not from them. Cris told me it was because both were government-run, but what kind of reason was that? He probably was just trying to see if he could get me riled up, knowing I hated the present government.
The moment we decided to go to the clinic was when the jitters started, though. I felt tingly all over in a bad way, and of course, Cris started to notice.
I glared at him, and he laughed, the kind that a person makes after hearing something funny. Hearing him laugh like that somehow lessened a bit of my nervousness. It made me secretly cheer for him.
"Hey, I had to ask," he said, grinning. "Anyway, it won't take long. You'll just fill up some forms then they'll take blood from you, and that's that. You don't have to write your real name or address. They understand that kind of stuff. Of course, you have to remember the name you used when you call them for your—you know—results."
I nodded. It wasn't the process at all that made me nervous though, and I knew Cris also knew that. It was the fact that my chances were fifty-fifty. There was just this part of me that didn't want to confirm what the truth was and just wanted to start living like the worst was real. It was absolutely stupid, I knew, but it was how I felt because I’d never had safe sex with Cris. The worst was just the safer assumption.
That probably was why somewhere on the way to the clinic I found myself resenting Cris for this situation he had dragged me into. It was a feeling I couldn’t really explain though. All I knew was that as soon as this was over—which I hoped to be at the soonest possible time—whatever I’d had with Cris would be a part of my past that I wouldn't look back to, regardless of all the memories attached to him.
However the test turned out.
Of course, I knew that forgetting him would be so much easier if it would turn out to be negative.
So I was all ready when we arrived at the clinic, which—Cris didn't tell me—was located in the city hall of Makati itself. The three persons manning it explained to me that it was actually a department of the city government dedicated to HIV victims alone. One of them, Judy, guided me through the whole process that went as Cris had said it would. Then, she gave me her phone number and told me to call her on Tuesday to find out what my result was.
By the time we were out in the streets, I was blinking my eyes in amazement at the quickness of it all.
And I thought, just like that, it was almost over.
I didn't know if Cris could tell what I was feeling while we had lunch together, but we barely talked. There was quite a chatter inside my head though, mostly about what I would tell him before we went our separate ways. I just found it difficult to think of words to use in saying goodbye for the last time, a goodbye that I hoped he wouldn't take hard. I didn't want to add to his being down, but I realized that this time, I really should be more concerned with myself.
I could only look him in the eyes though, when lunch finally ended.
"Well," he said, breaking the silence for me, "I guess this must be it."
I nodded, and being the coward that I was, I avoided his eyes before saying what was on my mind. "I think, Cris... we shouldn’t see each other again. It would be better for both of us.”
Much better for me was what I didn’t say.
“I admit,” I told him, “this day went better than I thought it would, but it's also made me realize things—a lot of things. Like I told you, some things you just can't overlook. Some things... well, they just won’t go away even though you don’t want to see them."
When I finally found courage to look him in the eyes, he only held mine for a second before looking away. I felt then like we were two strangers being forced to talk to each other, and tell each other things that we each already knew. Some things, though, just have to be said.
"And... thank you for telling me, Cris, about... you know."
"It was the right thing to do," he said, shrugging his shoulders. He then stood and looked at me with a smile before pulling me to my feet and out of the restaurant. “I understand, James. Really, I do. I figured this would happen when I offered to accompany you today. Anyway, I want to know your results if that’s alright. If you want to. Email or call me or something.”
I almost couldn’t believe what I just heard. I was so prepared to explain to him why I’d said the things I’d said. It just was how I knew him to be.
The thing was, what he said made this goodbye sadder—or happier, in another perspective—and almost, almost, made me waver in my resolve.
But I didn’t.
I hugged him before leaving, probably harder than I had ever hugged him before, and forced myself not to look back as I left. It was the first time I ever had to say goodbye to someone, and I had to keep stopping myself from thinking of going back, despite having made up my mind to commit him to the past.
Contentment, though, was what I felt once I got home and the day’s events had finally settled in, and I knew I had made the right decision.
Still, the next two days didn’t fail in the anxiety-giving department, and the fact that I had to keep up an act that everything was just fine through it all twisted something inside me until I could finally be by myself and drop the act. By the end of it, which was when I thought myself ready to call Judy, I had already run myself ragged to the point that I not only had started biting my fingernails again, but I also had started smoking again to make myself feel relieved. I was totally scared.
“Well,” she said, “Let me put you out of your misery ’cause I know what the waiting feels like. It’s good news for you—”
“Oh my god.”
I couldn’t really speak nor form thoughts after that. I was just feeling things. Sure, I was aware of what was going on, but I felt like I was so light I was floating. Man.
“Anyway, not to burst your bubble or anything, but you should come back after six months for another test so we could be totally sure.”
I made a noncommittal answer. I figured if I was negative for HIV after four months of not having sex, then I would be negative for another six months.
But whatever. I was on a high!
After that, the rest of the day was like one big happy blur. When you’re happy and doing things you like, eating your favorite food and whatnot with no worries, things really can blur themselves together. I was so happy.
Of course, I didn’t forget what Cris asked from me the day we parted ways. I decided to send him a text message after all, which I did before stuffing my face into a pillow and screaming myself out.
I just finally felt so totally free.